Built Buck Tough: How the Mets Have Found Success
Mets manager Buck Showalter; Photo via All Pro Reels
*Stats are as of 6/18*
The Mets are off to a similar start to last year. They lead the NL East and are consistently in the top 3 teams in MLB power rankings. It does not matter which ones you go off; it seems uniform - and rightly so. They have scored the most runs in the majors, yet they rank 18th in home runs. Why does that matter? In recent years, the team who hits the most homers tends to be the best team in the majors, but I am not sold on the “selling out for home runs” approach to building a lineup. I love the way the Mets are constructed and how their offensive production has come. I think it is indicative of a team that is built to succeed offensively in the long run.
Many fans are currently worried about Atlanta’s recent stretch in which they gained 5 games on the Mets in a 14-game span. To that I say, do not worry. New York just completed a difficult 3-week stretch in which they played the Giants, Phillies, Dodgers, Padres, Angels, and Brewers. Over that 20-game span, they played 11-9 baseball. Yes, it is not the greatest win percentage (.550), but I would definitely take that against those teams, most, if not all, of whom will make the playoffs. They made it over the hump - from now until the All-Star break, their biggest series are a 3 game set with the Astros and another 3 game set against the Braves. For reference, the All-Star break does not start until July 18th. So I expect them to gain some ground on their divisional lead.
Why have the Mets weathered the storm better this year than in other years? The answer is simple - Buck Showalter. I have been on the Buck train for a while. I always thought that he still had it when he was an analyst at MLB Network. After watching a young manager not manage the New York media and team properly last year for the Mets, I said that they should bring in Buck to right the ship. Buck offers something that no other available manager who was a free agent besides Bruce Bochy, which was experience, specifically priceless playoff experience. Buck is a great hybrid of an old-school manager who still knows and appreciates the analytics, which he uses as a complement to his managing style. He is a leader who sticks up for his guys no matter what. In the Opening Week of baseball when the Mets were leading the Majors in hit by pitches, Buck was on the top step letting the ump hear it. He was even tossed, fined, and suspended for having Yoan Lopez throw at Kyle Schwarber. That shows your guys that you have their backs. Bully ball is an ugly but necessary part of baseball. Buck’s leadership has kept this team on course when we should have experienced a “let’s get Metsy moment.”
What does that mean? Consistently, the Mets have multiple weird events over the course of a season that somehow derail them. This year, we had Max Scherzer having his hand bitten by a dog during a rehab assignment and star shortstop Fransico Lindor closing his hand in the hotel door, yet neither weird event has had a ripple effect on the team. They simply keep winning games. No big deal, Mets fans. Buck has you covered because he knows how to handle the New York spotlight from his time as the Yankees skipper.
Another reason for the Mets success is their top-down approach to hitting. The goal is to just pass it on down the lineup. Get on base for the guy behind you. This approach comes from the success of their leading veterans, Fransico Lindor and Brandon Nimmo. Yes, there are other guys in the lineup performing well, and I will cover a few of them next when talking about guys having career years. But now, I want to highlight the years Lindor and Nimmo are having.
Frankie Lindor has one of the highest dollar value contracts in pro-sports history, so he is a captain, even if you don’t want to look at it like that. Currently, he isn’t quite at the same level as he was on the Indians, but the underlying numbers show he still has it. The switch hitter is crushing fastballs when he gets them, rocking a .498 xSLG and a .358 wOBA against them. In my opinion, he is trying to do a little too much at the plate. Trying to live up to a $34.1 million dollar average annual value contract would have me thinking I need to hit a home run every time, too. Another problem is how often teams shift on him, which causes him to try to elevate the ball to put it in the stands. For reference, he is shifted against 61.3 % of the time when batting left-handed and has a .319 wOBA versus the shift compared to his .338 wOBA when not facing a shift. Not to mention that the man is still disgusting with the glove, ranking in the 86th percentile for Outs Above Average, which measures how many outs he has saved.
Another veteran captain, Brandon Nimmo, is having a strong season. How is he a captain? Well, he is one of the longest-tenured Mets in the starting lineup. He has been there since 2016, which gives him a platform from which to speak in that locker room. Plus, the man is getting it done. He has a .361 OBP and a 121 OPS + on the year. At the plate, his eye is hard to beat, he is in the 92 percentile for chase rate, which mean he rarely swings at pitches out of the zone. His walk rate has him in the 71st percentile, and his strikeout rate is in the 79th percentile, which is something you love to see. In addition to having a strong year behind the dish, the outfielder is covering the 30% of the Earth that water doesn’t clover. His sprint speed (87th percentile), outs above average (86th percentile), and outfielder jump (75th percentile) are all above the league average. Outfielder jump measures how well a guy tracks a ball when it is hit to him. Another way of putting it is route efficiency.
The two captains are crucial pieces in the top-to-bottom leadership approach that is helping the Mets succeed this season. It is an important component of their passing-the-torch mentality.
It is hard to see the Mets playing so well and not acknowledge some of their standout performers. But before I get to my two standout performers, I want to highlight two honorable mentions in JD Davis and Luis Guillorme.
I did not realize this until I started researching stats for my article, but JD Davis currently leads the MLB in hard-hit percentage with 64.8%. His stats are quite weird, to be honest. You’d expect a guy hitting the cover off the ball to have a high SLG, but nope. His is.348. However, he somehow is in the top percentile for average exit velocity and wOBAcon, which measures a player’s wOBA when he puts a ball in play.
Another pleasant surprise for Mets fans is Luis Guillorme being impossible to strike out. Thus far, he is having the best season of his career. He is hitting .333 over 138 at bats. Since he is a utility player and not an everyday one, he does not have enough plate appearances to be on the MLB batting average leaderboard, where he would rank 4th in the MLB. Additionally, he is in the 81st percentile for walk rate, 11.4%, and 94th percentile for strikeout rate, 12%. Those are phenomenal numbers. He roughly strikes out once per every walk. Something else I want to highlight is his control of the strike zone. He is in the 96th percentile for chase rate and 99th percentile for whiff rate, which means that when he swings, he makes contact. He is, simply put, getting the job done when he is in the game. Not to forget his .410 OBP, which I love. He does not crush the ball but he gets on base.
Okay, now time to discuss the guys who are going absolutely nuts this year. Polar Bear Pete Alonso and Edwin Diaz.
Just want to get this out of the way and say I love Pete Alonso; I think he is great for the game of baseball because of his love of the Home Run Derby. Pete is mashing this year. He currently leads the NL with 20 homers and 66 RBI. But my favorite stat that he leads in is sacrifice flies, with 7. It is a very unselfish approach to the game, which I think is something that this Mets team embodies. More on Pete’s power numbers; he has an xSLG of .586, which puts him in the top 8% of the league, and a wOBA of .382 which puts him in the top 6% of the league. Remember his crazy rookie season? Well right now, a majority of his stats are better than that year. His sweet spot %, xBA, xSLG, xWOBA, hard-hit %, and strikeout rate are all better than his historic rookie year. For reference, his wRC+ in his rookie season was 144. Right now, he is at 152. Still not sold? Okay, we can simplify it more. His OPS+ in 2019 was 147, and now it is 157. That’s kind of a big deal, considering he hit 59 homers his rookie season. All I can say is stay hot, Pete.
Not going to lie, Edwin Diaz has surprised me this year. I remember when he and his brother made saves on the same night. My response was that I didn’t know which was more shocking; Edwin not blowing a save or the Reds having a save opportunity (this was very early in the year when the Reds were 3-20 or something like that). Well, Edwin obviously took that personally. I don’t even know where to start with his stats. I can summarize his baseball savant page with one number; 99. Yes, the dude is that gross. Let’s dive into some of his stats. His ERA+ is a 179 with a FiP of 1.83, which are both what you want to see from a closer. He has been absolute nails this year. Something else that highlights how good he has been is his strikeout rate, which sits at an insane 48.6%. Pray for hitters because it seems like Diaz isn’t pulling any punches; he is coming after you and your whole family when you step into the box against him. Edwin Diaz has been the bully closer every team dreams of having. When the phone rings and they call him in, he is coming into the game to shut the door in the face of the top, middle, or bottom order it doesn’t matter. He’s going to punch your ticket whether you like it or not.
If the Mets play their cards right, they might be in one of the most advantageous spots in baseball. Mad Max will be coming back shortly, as soon as Sunday. Jacob Degrom, don’t know if you have heard of him, will be back around the All-Star break potentially. How is this an advantage? Well, rather than potentially trading for another high-end starter at the deadline, they get two certified aces back off the IL. Another advantage to these aces returning to the team is they have not thrown many pitches this year, meaning their arms are less likely to be worn out at the end of the year. If I were pulling the strings for the Mets, I am moving to a 6 man rotation and treating Mad Max and Degrom like they are coming off of Tommy John surgery, slowly building up their pitch counts and amount of stressful innings so that they do not reinjure themselves. The Mets rotation has held down the fort without their two premier arms. According to Fangraphs, the Mets starting rotation currently ranks 6th in the MLB without Scherzer or Degrom. In addition to the starting rotation getting reinforced, James McCann will be coming back from a broken bone in his wrist by the end of June, according to MLB.com. Although McCann does not offer much value as a batter - well, actually no value, since his oWAR is -2.8 - his ability to handle the pitchers and call games makes him semi-valuable. Rookie relief pitcher Colin Holderman will hopefully come back after the All-Star break. For those who do not know the name, let me introduce you. Colin has a 129 ERA+, which means he is 29% better than the average pitcher this season, and a FIP of 1.72, which suggests that he is striking out a high percentage of the batters he faces. Granted, his sample size is small, but I like what I have seen over the small amount. His heat maps are what gives me hope that his numbers are legitimate.
All in all, I think the Mets are in a unique position to be able to add many impactful pieces from the IL without sacrificing their Minor League depth for trade acquisitions. I never said that they could not add anyone at the deadline, though. After all, the World Series is won at the trade deadline. I am not saying that just because of the Braves last year. It is a trend year after year; the teams who add at the deadline are more likely to win. What do the Mets need to add to win? Great question - arms and a better hitting catcher, in my opinion. A team can never, I mean literally NEVER, have enough pitching when it comes to a postseason run. The Mets could use another high-leverage arm like Sam Moll of the Oakland Athletics or Joe Mantiply of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Sam Moll currently has a 1.27 ERA and 294 ERA+ over 21.1 innings, which is great. He still is under multiple years of team control, so he might be a little expensive. Joe Mantiply also has multiple years of control attached to him, but I think the Mets could get him for cheaper because he was not as high of a prospect. Mantiply is rocking a 0.36 ERA over 25.1 innings pitched with an ERA+ of 1,168. Yes, you read that correctly, I didn’t mistype it. In addition to a back-end guy, the Mets might want to consider adding a better hitting catcher to the roster for a playoff push. They should turn to the guy every fan wants on their team - Willson Contreras. He is arguably one of the most valuable pieces available at the deadline this year. Based on last year’s trade deadline, the cost will not be too high, considering the return the Cubs received for its core. Contreras is having a monster year at the plate, slashing .279/.393/.917, and the Mets would benefit from having his power bat in their offense that ranks 18th in home runs. He is having a career year with a .400 wOBA and 157 wRC+. I think he would be a phenomenal addition to that lineup. But hey, what do I know? They don’t pay me to make decisions
What’s the Mets biggest fear at this point? After all, they are a great ball club built around a sustainable philosophy of gap-to-gap baseball with great pitching. What they’re scared of, though, is clear - injuries. They need to stay healthy. Let me say it again - stay healthy! Yes, I am looking at you Jacob Degrom. Do not be selfish and throw 102 every pitch and blow out your arm again. Mad Max, no need to try and run through a wall against the Marlins. Save it for the postseason. I love your intensity, but you’re 37 now. Staying healthy goes for the whole team, but I want to emphasize how important it is for their top-end arms to stay healthy. Once the postseason swings around, it is a three-man rotation, with the rest of the starters subbing in as needed or as long relievers.
In short, I think this Mets team could be the real deal. I think they have a great shot at winning the division and making it to the postseason. I don’t know what to say about their potential for a World Series run because the playoffs never go as planned, but I think that they have a great foundation for such a run. Leadership is what sets this team apart, in my opinion. It starts at the top with Billy Eppler and Buck Showalter and emanates throughout the clubhouse. Everyone wants to do their part. They are playing for the guy next to them. Unselfish baseball is beautiful, and it is the reason for th